College football is officially over and it’s time for everyone to turn their attention to the rest of the college basketball season. We’re officially at the halfway point and conference play is just starting to get underway. At this point last year Purdue was the hottest team in the country and a trendy pick to win the national championship. This year is a different story. Following last nights manhandling by Michigan State, the Boilers are tied for 7th in the Big Ten at 2-2 (9-6 overall.)
The Boilermakers have had a tough go of it so far this season. They started off with a quick 4-0 record but immediately cooled off losing late to then #16 Virginia Tech and #15 Florida State. Those losses were followed by a 19 point drubbing by #7 Michigan in Ann Arbor, a good conference win against #23 Maryland, and then two more losses to Texas and Notre Dame. As of late, they had looked a little better with three straight wins against Ohio, Belmont, and #25 Iowa. They took that momentum into East Lansing last night where they lost 77-59 in what was a miserable performance. Throw in a win against Robert Morris and that brings us to today. What exactly has been the Boilers problem thus far?
Problem #1: Carsen Edwards is doing too much.
When you have a National Player of the Year candidate like Carsen Edwards you’d think doing too much would be the least of your concerns, but in this case it feels like Carsen could have too much on his plate. It reminds me of DJ Byrd in his senior year at Purdue. When DJ had Robbie Hummel, Etwuan Moore, and JaJuan Johnson he was great as a knockdown 3 point guy. But once he was the only scorer on the team he started taking every hero shot imaginable. I’d groan every time he took one of his fadeaway 3’s off the curl.
Carsen is a much better player than DJ was and I’m not trying to discredit him in any way, but as soon as this team is down Carsen starts taking shots that Steph Curry wouldn’t even shoot. The Michigan State game is a prime example. Purdue trailed by 10 points for most of the second half. Carsen was jacking up crazy fade aways from NBA range and beyond the entire second half. He shot 3-16 from the field and 2-13 from beyond the arc. To his credit, he does often make a lot of these shots, but it’s just not good shot selection. Especially when trying to crawl back into a close game.
Problem #2: Lack of Scorers
Carsen Edwards might be the best pure scorer in the country and easily leads the team in scoring with 24.5 ppg, but after him there really isn’t anyone who can put the ball in the hoop. Ryan Cline is a 3-point specialist who is either all the way on or all the way off. He’s seen a lot of improvement from last season to now, but he’s not a consistent guy for the Boilers. Cline averages 12.5 ppg and then no one else gets that close to double digits. Matt Haarms is averaging 7.8 ppg but he’s seen his minutes reduced the last few games due to poor play. Evan Boudreaux is about as gritty as they come, but he doesn’t seem to make that big of an impact on offense.
When there’s only one guy on the team who can score it doesn’t make them a very big threat as long as they can stop one guy. Carsen was the teams leading scorer in every game this season until last night. If this team is going to stay alive for a shot at the NCAA tournament they need to have someone step up and compliment Carsen.
Problem #3: Lack of Experience
When it comes down to it, this Purdue team is just young and inexperienced. A lot of playing time is given to players who are sophomores, redshirt freshman, and true freshman. Sophomores Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern see 18 and 27 mpg each, redshirt freshman Aaron Wheeler and Sasha Stefanovic see 14-15 mpg, and true freshman Eric Hunter Jr sees 14 mpg. Then there’s also true freshman Trevion Williams who is currently averaging 6 mpg but has been seeing a large increase in playing time as of late. These aren’t the kind of young guys you’d expect teams like Duke or Kentucky to have who will come in and make immediate impacts. These guys are going to need 2-3 years to really mature and develop. These guys are athletic and have shown signs of being really good players, but right now they’re too inexperienced to make a huge impact.
This team has shown signs of being really good and that’s a reason for Boiler fans to still have hope. They’ve played right with top ten teams such as Florida State and Virginia Tech on the road and have beaten ranked teams like Maryland and Iowa at home. Carsen Edwards is going to do Carsen Edwards things and he’ll continue to put up big numbers and the emergence of Trevion Williams in the post will be big going forward.
This team could make the tournament this year, but there’s also a chance they could miss it. It really depends on if they play team basketball down the stretch. They have a tough slate of games coming up. Having to play at Wisconsin, home with Rutgers, home with rival Indiana, at Ohio State, and then a rematch in Mackey with Michigan State. It won’t be easy but this team could still surprise some people and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.